Convenience food is a concept that has been prevalent and popular in the western countries for a long time now. Globally, the demand for ready-to-eat (RTE) food products has been increasing over the last few years on account of busier lifestyle of consumers and their rising income levels. Similar factors are fuelling the growth in the packaged food sector in India.
Increased employment opportunities have increased migration of people from tier 1 and tier 2 cities to metropolitans, which is an important driver for RTE food products in the country. Nuclear families and bachelors residing in metros for study or employment purpose are among the major consumers of RTE food products in India. The number of working women is particularly on the rise, which is again driving the demand. All these factors are creating significant awareness about ready meals among consumers. Growth in retail chains and outlets is also adding to the product awareness among consumers in the country’s, supermarkets, convenience stores and hypermarkets, which are emerging as the key points-of-sale for offering a wide range RTE food products.
The Indian cooking styles have undergone considerable changes over the past few years owing to the advent of modern technology and several other changes such as urbanization, increasing working population, increase in female work population and the rise of nuclear families. People have been increasingly shifting to ready-to-eat food items in order to save the time involved in preparing meals.
With the growing media awareness, literacy rates and standard of living, people have grown more responsive towards the health and hygiene standards associated with food products. There has been a shift witnessed in the customers focus from price to quality in the recent years, particularly in the urban and a few semi-urban areas. Consumers have been drifting from openly or loosely sold food products to the consumption of hygienically packaged fortified RTE foods.
The Indian food and grocery market is the world’s sixth largest, with retail contributing 70 percent of the sales. The Indian food processing industry accounts for 32 percent of the country’s total food market, one of the largest industries in India and is ranked fifth in terms of production, consumption, export and expected growth. It is believed that the Food Processing industry will be a US$ 25 billion market in India by 2020. Out of which, the serviceable metro market is expected to be close to almost US$ 20 billion. The past couple of years have seen a tremendous growth of this segment due to high consumer acceptance for convenience food nationwide.
A recent survey done by Assocham (Associated Chamber of Commerce and Industry of India) says about 79 percent of Indian households today prefer to have instant food due to time constraints. With two working parents and families becoming nuclear, people prefer authentic, nutritious store bought options rather than spending hours in the kitchen after work. In recent years, the focus of the ready-to-eat market has gradually shifted from just homemakers or students to young professionals and families.
It is found that 76 percent of parents in big cities, mostly both working with children under the age of five, are serving easy-to-make meals in some form or the other, at least 10-12 times every month! No wonder that the RTE market continues to expand at a brisk pace. The market for spreads, sauces and dips is now close to US$ 2 billion and growing at 22 percent CAGR. The RTE meals market is currently valued at INR 23 crore. It grew at a compounded annual growth rate of 3-5 percent in the last five years. According to data research company Nielsen, the breakfast mixes market is growing at 17 percent and is currently pegged at Rs 275 crore.
However, as fancy as the various breakfast cereals available in the market might be, we crave the satisfaction that only a traditional dish can give. And hence the traditional brands are coming up with options that are suitable for the Indian palate. The traditional brands such as ITC and MTR have forayed into items such as bhel bar, pot upma, poha which can be had on the go, anytime, anywhere.To fulfil the demand of this large section of consumers, one will find a lot of new RTE brands in the market.
Unlike the giant brands though, the new entrants are trying to create a niche category for themselves, be it breakfast cereals, canned, frozen foods, spreads, chutneys, and so on. Companies are looking to attract consumers within areas like olive oil, spreads and ready meals by offering promotions, new product developments, health and nutritional benefits and attractive packaging.
The Indian consumer behaviour has been influenced by exposure to other cultures primarily in the West through travels, and popular literature. The ready-to- eat market is somewhat saturated in the West, hence developing countries like India are attracting the majority of big players in the promise of a high growth opportunity. The booming food sector, multiple food outlets, the popularity of international brands and distinctive distribution channels adopted by players are expected to help the market grow at a continuous pace.
Consumers are increasingly realizing that majorly RTE foods are loaded with preservatives for a longer shelf life. Increasing health awareness, particularly in the young generation, is hindering the growth of this market. Still a large Indian population is price sensitive and therefore the price factor of RTE food makes them affordable only to select economic classes of the society. Hence it becomes all the more essential for new players in this field to marry convenience with health benefi ts to ensure convenience food does not mean compromising on quality. The key is to provide RTE food options focused on Indian taste for everyday consumption, which are is not harmful in the long run.
This is the challenge taken up specifically by food tech start-ups who want to be considered as serious players and are getting into the game after years of R&D. With state of the art technology in packaging and processing to ensure the end product is not just a world class product that can eventually be on the shelves in countries across the globe but a product that is a strong contender in being a game changer.